Ichiro Suzuki is one of baseball’s biggest stars — a bona fide household name on both sides of the Pacific Ocean — and on Monday night one of baseball’s biggest stars landed on the biggest planet in baseball’s universe. The Yankees acquired Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for two minor-league pitchers.
This is big news, as it should be, because a big star aligning with the Death Star is always big news. It’s also big news because Ichiro has never played a major league game for any team but the Mariners, his deep crouches and extreme contact-oriented approach synonymous with baseball in Seattle over the last 12 seasons.
But it is not big news because the Yankees are getting anything like the former AL MVP and perennial All-Star Ichiro was for many years. He’s hitting .261 with a paltry .288 on-base percentage. That average is 61 points below his career line, and that OBP is 34 points below the American League average. He’s going to hit at the very bottom of the Yankees’ lineup and is essentially a patchwork proxy for regular left fielder Brett Gardner, who will miss the entire season.
This is the great paradox that often presents itself around this time of year in Major League Baseball. The non-waiver trading deadline, which always falls on July 31, is responsible for one of baseball’s two silly seasons (the other being the height of Hot Stove season in late November/early December), and all the rumors and speculation and big-time swaps are fun to keep pace with. But for all the energy expended following the big moves, in many cases, the real-world impact doesn’t match up.
Sometimes it’s because two months isn’t enough for one player to make an impact. Other times, it’s because the name recognition no longer syncs up with what’s left of a particular player’s talent.
Either way, trades in July are often motivated heavily by finance and the reality check the standings provide with so little time left in the season, though it’s more fun sometimes to believe that it’s all about making a big statement — some sort of wild-card smash and grab. Ichiro might be just what the Yankees need to go on to their 28th World Series title, but history tells us that he’s just as likely to have very little impact on how New York’s season ends one way or another.